The New Great Game Round-Up: February 9, 2014

Azerbaijan: “Base for Regional Jihadi Operations”, U.S. Presence in the 'Stans Bothers Russia & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

On Friday, a lavish opening ceremony kicked off the 22nd Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. This year's Winter Olympics are not only the most expensive Games in history but also one of the most politicized sports events ever. Western media used the Games to ramp up the ongoing smear campaign against the Russian government and Western politicians proved that they are only interested in one form of sport: boycotting the Sochi Olympics. But Russia is not on its own in the intensifying Cold War against the United States and its allies. Beijing strongly supports Moscow and China's President Xi Jinping demonstrated this by travelling to the Black Sea resort, the first trip of a Chinese leader to major sports event overseas. The Chinese government criticized the West for constantly attacking Russia and drew a lesson from this:

Sochi Games consolidate Sino-Russian ties

The first warning Sochi 2014 has rendered China is that implementation of "Western-style democracy" will not help reach a mood of détente with Western nations, which adopt attitudes toward big powers like China and Russia in line with their geopolitical interests.

Xi's attendance at the Games in no way implies that China is in confrontation with the West. In actuality, the aggregate power of both Beijing and Moscow is still far less than that of the Western world.

Nevertheless, bilateral cooperation between Beijing and Moscow is highly resilient. Political dynamics determines that the two global strategic powers are unlikely to be isolated, so it is doomed to fail when the West attempts to separate China from Russia.

Russia-China Axis Stands Up to the West

Relations between Russia and China improved steadily over the past few years and are now the best they have ever been. After Russian President Vladimir Putin had greeted his Chinese counterpart, the two leaders jointly held a video talk with naval commanders from both countries who briefed Putin and Xi about their mission to escort Syria's chemical weapons. In addition to the Syrian conflict, Moscow and Beijing also see eye to eye on the situation in Ukraine and so they used the meeting in Sochi to send a message to Washington and Brussels by condemning any outside interference. Especially attempts to bring the Crimean peninsula, where Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based, under Western control will be met with fierce opposition from Russia as well as from China:

Beijing to expand its influence to the Black Sea: report

After China gained permission from the Pakistani government to operate its Gwadar Port through the state-run China Overseas Port Holding Company, the Moscow-based Voice of Russia stated that Beijing is ready to construct another deep water harbor on the Crimea peninsula in Ukraine to extend Chinese influence into the Black Sea.

About US$10 billion will have to be spent for the construction of the harbor, an oil depot and an economic development zone around it, the report estimated. Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company under the leadership of 40-year-old Wang Jing is the key investor in the Crimean port. Although Wang denies any relationship with the Chinese government, the Hong Kong-based Mingjing News has reported that his license was issued by the People's Liberation Army.

With Victoria Nuland, Jeffrey Feltman & Co. already picking the new Ukrainian government and senior U.S. academics seriously suggesting that Russia could resort to military action, Ukraine's future is certainly one of the most contentious issues between the two sides. So the Sochi Olympics are not the only reason why the Black Sea region is currently becoming the focus of attention. A major feature of Western media reporting about the Games has been the constant "terrornoia" but so far it is a lot of fuss about nothing. Fortunately, one Ukrainian man decided to lend some credence to Washington's ridiculous terror warnings:

Passenger tries to hijack plane bound for Istanbul and divert it to Sochi

A major security operation was sparked after a passenger on board a plane bound for
Turkey attempted to hijack it and demanded that it be diverted to Sochi, where the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics was taking place.

The flight, which had taken off from Kharkov, Ukraine, and was en route for Istanbul with 110 passengers, subsequently landed safely at Sabiha Gokcen airport, one of the Turkish city's international airports.

While this drunk wannabe terrorist posed hardly any real threat, Russia's security services have to deal with more capable terrorists in the North Caucasus. In particular, the 2013 Volgograd bombings kept Russia's law enforcers busy during the last weeks. At the end of January, the two suicide bombers were identified and their suspected accomplices detained before the alleged mastermind of the attack was eventually eliminated a few days ago: 

Suspected Volgograd bombing mastermind killed in Dagestan

Dagestani police reported that they have killed a suspected mastermind behind the Volgograd bombings.

The militant was identified as leader of the "Kadarskaya" gang Mirzayev, a Dagestani law-enforcement source told Itar-Tass on Wednesday, adding that according to preliminary information, he might have sent two suicide bombers to Volgograd late in December 2013.

Azerbaijan: Base for Regional Jihadi Operations

Furthermore, the Russian authorities continue to monitor the activities of Russian jihadists in Syria. Ramzan Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic, just announced the death of one ethnic Chechen from the Pankisi Gorge, who was leading a Wahhabi group in Aleppo. However, Chechens are not the only representatives from the Caucasus region in Syria. There is also an increasing number of Azerbaijani citizens fighting on the side of the various al-Qaeda factions. Considering Azerbaijan's role as base of operations for the NATO-GCC-Israel axis in the war against the Syrian government, this should come as no real surpise [emphasis mine]:

Croat networks in arms

Croat businessman Hrvoje Petrac, a leading light in the Balkan arms trade, has been exploring new business opportunities in Syria. Petrac, who was jailed at one point in connection with the kidnapping of the son of Vladimir Zagorec, the chief executive of the public arms export agency Agencija Alan (ex-RH-Alan), now operates from Azerbaijan. From there he is believed to be supplying weapons to Syria via Jordan, which is understood to be providing end-user certificates. The operations are understood to be taking place with the financial support and protection of several intelligence agencies in the Middle East that are supporting the Syrian rebels.

In fact, Azerbaijan has played a pivotal role in U.S. intelligence operations since the days of MEGA Oil in the early 1990s, when hundreds of mujahideen were flown from Afghanistan to Baku, converting the Azerbaijani capital "into a base for regional jihadi operations". Baku later also hosted the infamous pre-9/11 meetings, where senior U.S. officials met with the likes of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and current Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan to coordinate the Pentagon's 'Gladio' operations in the region. With Bandar Bush now in charge of the majority of the "Syrian rebels", it is not hard to guess, who is supporting and protecting notorious Croatian mafia boss Petrac. At the end of last year, the Azerbaijani regime and the House of Saud agreed to strengthen their cooperation, resulting among others in the signing of a security agreement [emphasis mine]: 

Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia to sign security agreement

Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia agreed on signing of the agreement "On the extradition of criminals and arrested persons" and protocol "On cooperation between Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia in the fight against crime" as part of security cooperation.

Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia, stressing security cooperation, agreed on the joint work in the fight against terrorism.

Since Baku and Riyadh are equally committed to fighting terrorism, this makes definitely sense. The only question is whether the Aliyev regime is prepared to deal with the consequences, which a close cooperation with the Wahhabism-spreading petro-monarchy inevitably entails: 

Crimes committed by Wahhabis discussed at board meeting of Prosecutor General's Office

It was noted at the meeting that Investigation Department for Grave Crimes under the Prosecutor General's Office are investigating criminal cases, which caused great public resonance, as well as banditry, premeditated murder of police officers committed in Gusar region by a group of Wahhabis, conflict occurred between criminal groups in Zagatala region, incidents committed with the use of firearms, cold steels and explosive devices at the tea house in Sumgayit city.

Baku is totally fine with Wahhabi liver-eaters destroying Syria but if they cause trouble in Azerbaijan, that is of course a different matter altogether. However, at the moment domestic problems take a back seat to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Two weeks ago, tensions between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces escalated dramatically causing civilian casualties on both sides. So the Aliyev regime lost no time in organizing another shopping tour. Azerbaijan's military is apparently not happy with its Israeli drones, which might very well be compromised, and is therefore considering to support Turkey's military-industrial complex:

Azerbaijan testing Turkish drone

Representatives of Turkish defence industry enterprises established contacts in Azerbaijan during the period of heightened tension on the contact line between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops, According to Turkish TV channel TRT.

"Turkish engineers presented their products to the Azerbaijani military. The greatest interest of the Azerbaijani side caused drone Anka," the website reports.

Tests are underway to determine the suitability of this UAV to the air and geographical conditions of Azerbaijan.

U.S. Presence in the 'Stans Bothers Russia

Meanwhile, the situation in Central Asia remains tense as well. After clashes between Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards highlighted the territorial disputes at the beginning of this year, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have failed to solve the conflict. Bishkek is particularly concerned about Dushanbe's latest move:

Kyrgyzstan Protests Appearance Of Tajikistan Paramilitaries Near Border

A paramilitary band led by a veteran of the Tajikistan civil war has reportedly been deployed to the border with Kyrgyzstan, prompting Bishkek to send an official note of protest to Dushanbe. Arkady Dubnov, the top Russian journalist covering Central Asia,
reported this week that Shoh Iskandarov, a former opposition commander who later joined the government, is leading a paramilitary group of about 150 men in the Isfara region. That's near the Kyrgyzstan border, which was recently the site of fighting that included heavy weaponry. Although the situation has calmed somewhat since the fighting on January 11, and both sides have agreed to pull back their forces, the alleged arrival of Iskandarov adds a potentially dramatic new element into the tense situation.

This means that the Tajik regime will not only have to keep a close eye on the Tajik-Afghan border but also on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. Because Tajikistan's military capabilities are very limited, Dushanbe is always looking for outside assistance, the majority of which comes from Russia. However, Tajikistan's sponsors in the Kremlin will not approve of certain additional outside assistance [emphasis mine]:

SOCCENT commander visits Tajikistan

Army Major-General Michael K. Nagata, commander of Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), visited Tajikistan to meet with senior U.S. and Tajik officials on issues of bilateral security cooperation and regional interest, U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe reported today.

During his visit, Nagata met with U.S. Ambassador Susan Elliott and discussed areas of continued military cooperation between the United States and Tajikistan, including SOCCENT’s relationship with the Tajik Special Operations Forces.

The same goes for the continued U.S. presence in Kyrgyzstan. Although the United States is officially leaving the Transit Center at Manas and the Pentagon is relocating its Afghanistan air logistics hub to Romania, there is some evidence to suggest that the Americans are setting up a secret intelligence-gathering operation in the Central Asian country. The Russians have at least sufficient evidence to bring up the issue during the trip of Kyrgyz President Atambayev to the Sochi Olympics:

Putin Reportedly Concerned About Lingering U.S. Presence In Kyrgyzstan

Russian President Vladimir Putin is concerned about the possibility of the American military conducting intelligence operations in Kyrgyzstan and will bring up the issue with his Kyrgyzstani counterpart Almazbek Atambayev when the two meet at Sochi during the Olympics. That's according to Russian diplomatic and military stories quoted in a story in Russian newspaper
Nezavisimaya Gazeta which provides a useful report what Moscow is thinking these days about Central Asian security.

Moscow has been spending a lot of money in order to convince Bishkek to kick the Americans out of Manas. More American intelligence operations in Central Asia is not what the Kremlin had in mind. The Russians are already worried about the unpredictable situation in Afghanistan and how this will affect the region. For this reason, the 2014 CSTO drills will focus on the prevention of threats emerging from Afghanistan and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu just announced plans to reinforce the air force base at Kant as well as to strengthen cooperation with local military:

Russia to Deploy More Su-25 Combat Planes at Kyrgyz Airbase

Russia will deploy four additional Su-25 ground attack aircraft at the Kant airbase in Kyrgyzstan in 2014, Russia’s Central Military District said Monday.

The base currently hosts at least eight Su-25 planes and two Mi-8 combat transport helicopters, as well as over 400 service personnel, according to the Russian military.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

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